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The edge is always moving.


MSNBC – Truck maker unveils a monster pickup

Hummer owners now have permission to feel inadequate. Does this mean this unpatriotic gas guzzler is destined to success? of course not. Being on the edge is no promise of success. Just because it’s stupid doesn’t mean it’s a purple cow!

What it does mean, though, is that it’s harder for the Hummer to stay fashionable, and that all fashions fade as competitors crowd in. Thanks, Helene, for the link.

Trust and Respect, Courage and Leadership

[the last Fast Company column]

What would happen if your friends and colleagues treated you the way marketers do?

What if your spouse sold your personal information to anyone who would pay for it? If your boss promised you miraculous changes and then failed to deliver? If your co-workers refused to talk to you unless you spent half an hour on hold first?

What if the people you liked and trusted made promises to you in order to get your attention and cooperation, and then broke those promises whenever they could get away with it?

Most of us wouldn’t choose to work with people who disrespect us as much as marketers do. Most of us wouldn’t choose a career where everything we interact with is prettied up and dumbed down.

Why do we hate marketers so much?

We don’t just hate them. We ignore them. We distrust them. In fact, when a marketer actually keeps his promise to us, we’re so surprised we tell everyone we know.

I got a call yesterday from a company that wanted to “confirm my order”. When I returned the call, I discovered that there was no confirming… it was just a come-on from a company I had never heard from to sell me something new.

Somewhere along the way, marketers stopped acting like real people. We substituted a new set of ethics, one built around “buyer beware” and the letter of the law. Marketers, in order to succeed in a competitive marketplace, decided to see what they could get away with instead of what they could deliver.

As businesses have become commodities, many of them have decided that respect is the first thing they can no longer afford. If you’ve ever been herded onto a cattlecar airline, or put on interminable hold by a cell phone company, you know the feeling. One telcom executive confided in me last week, “after we sell you an account, we never ever want to hear from you again. If we hear from you, it’s bad news.” Hey, it’s just business.

The few successful marketers we hear about again and again (we hear about them so often, they seem trite) are all on our short list because they still show their customers respect. Apple, “Frasier” (the long-running TV show), the Ritz Carlton, Linux—none of them talk down to their audience.

The magic kicks in when marketers are smart enough and brave enough to combine trust with respect. When a marketer doesn’t frisk you on the way out of a retail establishment, or trusts you to make intelligent decisions, you remember it. The number of companies that keep promises to their customers, respect their intelligence and keep their promises, alas, is quite tiny.

Of course, this means that a huge opportunity exists. It means that if you seek the very best slice of the market (the individuals and companies that can spend money—wisely—on new things) you’ll likely do best if you eschew trickery and misdirection and pandering and instead focus on customers that will embrace a realistic and honest approach to doing business. RULE ONE: Smart marketers treat their customers like respected colleagues and admired family members.

The ironic thing is this: at the same time that marketers have coarsened commercial relationships, they’ve spread their ethical mantra (or lack of one) to individuals as well. At the start if this column, I asked, “What would happen if your friends and colleagues treated you the way marketers do?” Well, in many cases, it turns out that they do.

Now, apparently, it’s okay if a company reneges on a pension commitment. Now, if the contract doesn’t specifically spell out how one company will treat another, it’s okay to rip the other off as long as there’s a loophole. Now, apparently, it’s quite alright to treat your friends and colleagues the same way a marketer treats his prospects.

If an organization makes a promise, then keeps it, delight kicks in. If a manager or an employee or a co-worker takes an extra minute or jumps through an extra hoop to honor a commitment to you, it’s something you’ll remember for a long time—precisely because it’s such a rare occurrence.

So there’s the real opportunity… to follow in the footsteps of the great marketers by reclaiming the interactions that used to be commonplace. Have the courage to make promises and keep them. Do more than you promised, not what the contract says. Assume your colleagues are smart, and show leadership by respecting their work as if it were your own. RULE TWO: Treat your colleagues the way a smart marketer would. With respect. And keep your promises.

So long to Fast Company

It’s hard to believe, but a lot more than five years ago, I met Bill Taylor and Alan Webber and my life changed (for the better!)

Since then, I’ve written more columns (and possibly more pages) for Fast Company magazine than anyone else. I’ve been thrilled and pleased by the terrific response I’ve received from the magazine’s readers–thank you.

Most especially, thanks to Alan and Bill for their insight, their guidance and their commitment to the original vision of the magazine. I think it really did change the world.

I wish John Byrne and his staff the best of luck–it’s still an important, vibrant publication that matters.

More on woot

Jason McCabe Calacanis reports on the relationship between Woot.com and Engadget – www.engadget.com
, a neat blog of cool, you guessed it, gadgets.

Obviously, the people who read engadget are big time nerds and high-tech fashion sneezers. The blog has permission to talk to people and authority when they recommend something. The big spike in Woot’s traffic happened in September when engadget moved from putting just “go check out woot” on their site to actually putting the product of the day on the engadget page. So, the blog is trusted, but not too much. People wanted to see if it was worth the click.

Jason reports that next Woot is going to give Engadget.com a five minute jump on the deal of the day. So, at 11:55 you can get a secret link from engadget.com to woot, which actually will make a difference, he says, because some of their products sell out in the first couple of minutes.

Going first is a free prize. For sure.

A modest customer service proposal

So, the trend is pretty clear: move your customer support operations offshore to cut costs. After all, customer service is a cost, not a profit center, and if you can cut those costs, you win.

I can do that one better.

Just spent the last few days on the phone with HP, Creative and Maytag. Infuriating. Difficult. Time-consuming. In two cases, I “won” the discussion, but of course, both of us lost. In the other, they won, I gave up and don’t expect to return any time soon.

Here’s the plan:

Someone starts a service designed to cut customer service costs close to zero. The way it works: a computerized operation, totally turnkey, located on some desolate island with very low wages and very little English. Any firm with a customer service ‘problem’ can hire them–they can handle dozens of clients at once. The extremely polite operators answer with the name of the firm and use a database to keep track of all the information they receive. They keep people on hold for as long as possible (but not a moment longer) and then transfer them to someone else.

The goal is make the customer feel as though the operators are doing their best, but of course, to never actually DO anything. Keep track of the conversations and the record numbers. Keep transferring people. Promise to call back, never do. Sooner or later, the customer gives up and walks away. (If the firm does their job right, the customer blames himself, at least a little bit, for not being more patient.)

End result? Not only are operator costs saved, but you don’t even have to fix any products!

Are the cameras on?

Here’s a Chinese news service covering a British dad dressed in an American costume breaking into a world famous palace. :: Xinhuanet – English ::


It’s all marketing… if marketing is defined as doing something that helps your ideas spread. From Palestinians who schedule protests for the convenience of cameramen to cameramen who create their own protests, the very techniques pioneered by PR folks are now fair game for everyone.

You’ve seen this before, no doubt


But still worth commenting on.

Woot goes all the way to the edge in that they sell just one product a day. This is extreme (about a millionth the size of Amazon) and very effective in attracting your interesting and spreading the word. What could be good enough or cheap enough to be the only product of the day?

The second thing they do that’s neat is that they support RSS. Which means you don’t have to remember to go there every day. You can subscribe. I love subscription-based businesses.


Here: No. 17 is the entire website for the hottest design firm in New York City.

That’s the whole site. And they’re turning away business.


What would happen if you did better work and less marketing?

One more thought about the echo chamber

If you’re defining yourself and your business in terms of your competition, you’re living in the echo chamber. Companies and organizations don’t grow fast at the expense of existing competitors. They grow fast for reasons that have nothing whatever to do with whether your service is 5% better or your product is a little more convenient.

You don’t beat McKinsey with better consulting advice, you don’t raise more money than the United Way by spending it more efficiently, and you don’t sell more widgets with a slightly longer guarantee.

The echo chamber (part 2)

Ask an undecided voter who Dan Quayle is and more than half have no clue. Ask them who Zell Miller is and the number drops into the single digits. (think about this for a second… how out of the loop do you need to be to be an undecided voter anyway?)

Yet, if the pundits on television are to be believed, what Zell Miller has to say is vitally important. Same with Dick Gephardt or John Edwards’ wife.

The pundits are there to spin for the people already in the echo chamber. They stick to their talking points and they busily keep score, just like the baseball fanatics with their box scores. But it really doesn’t matter and the networks are doing us a disservice by not featuring someone who can talk about the way the ideas spread, as opposed to what the ideas themselves mean to the insiders.

Howard Dean caused millions of words to be spilled while most people still had no idea who he was. Then, the moment with the very least amount of content (his famous scream) leaked out through the chamber and reached the public. And the rest didn’t matter one bit. What mattered was the idea that ultimately spread.

So, what does this have to do with you? Well, instead of worrying about the finest details of your competiton and our offering and your media buys, what really matters is this: who’s going to talk about you? What are they going to say?

Your prospects are just like the undecided voters. They are woefully uninformed, extremely difficult to contact and very prone to quick judgments and first impressions.

We don’t need Mary Matalin. We need Malcolm Gladwell.